Issue #17 February 6th - 13th 2003
What days are for
Sister Janice And The Talking Dog
Sister Janice is our new agony aunt. She used to be a nun, but after becoming involved in an accident at her convent involving a papal emissary; the mother superior; the convent dog and a bottle of 'citrus fresh' bleach, she decided it was time to find herself a new career. These days she travels through the galaxies in a converted garden shed.
Write to Sister Janice Slejj care of Friends of the Heroes. She will answer your problems and questions with the insight unique to a disco-loving alternative-gardening defrocked clergy member and cosmic adventurer.
Hello there, my little Children Of The Stars,
It hasn't been the busiest week in space, but I've kept myself busy... watering the plants, picking the leaves, drying them out, rolling em up..
Things are pretty quiet up here at the moment. Everyone is a little wary of coming into Space. This is what comes of orbiting the Earth. Earthlings are so easily discouraged.
I've considered moving somewhere more exotic. Visiting the Mountains of Venus, hanging out with the 24-hour rave people of Pluto.... something like that.
But I need to be here, for you lot.
Ever since the editors of this site pleaded with me to be their agony aunt, I have felt a certain responsibility. Yes, you need me, I know you do, my little seraphim of starlight..
Anyway, the postal service probably doesn't reach to Pluto. And they keep sending me free items. Well, not free exactly... a gentleman named Vernon in Colchester is paying for them. But someone at the post office is clearly confused.
Vernon clearly loves his little luxuries... this week I received two things that measure twelve inches, and revolve. Only one of them was a record.
So, for the moment, I'm here.. to help individuals like this poor soul:
'Dear Sister Janice,
This wintry weather is really getting me down. Normally I love nothing better than to go out for a nice country walk with my girl. But these days whenever I go out walking I come back with my hair coated in mud. Worst of all it gets stuck right between my toes. I've tried everything to solve the problem from licking it off, to waiting until it is dry and trying to scratch it off but nothing seems to work. Worst of all it though, is the fact that my my girl won't talk go near me until I'm clean.
Is there any hope for me? or am I doomed to stay inside until finer weather?
Finally, someone with a real problem. No, I'm not referring to the weather. I'm referring to the fact that she LICKS her own hair.
Now, my little crucifixes of cuddliness, you know I'm the last person to be judgemental. Leave that to those fascists who held me captive in their convent for fifteen years:
'Sister Janice, you appear to have forgotten mass again'
'Sister Janice, will you PLEASE refrain from playing those loud records while I'm conversing with Our Lord'
'Sister Janice, you seem to have poisoned the mother superior. And the Papal Emissary. And little Julia Andrea, the convent dog'
God, they were EASY mistakes to make, yknow....?
Anyway, as I said, I'm the last person to be judgemental... but GOBBLING your own barnet??. It isn't right. It isn't healthy. It isn't natural. And I'm suprised you don't choke:
There may be a simple answer to your problems. Your girl doesn't want to come near you because you're behaving like a FREAK. She might tell you its the mud, but it isn't. Take it from me, licking your own hair, scratching yourself in public?? You may see this sort of behaviour exhibited by people on public transport up and down the country, but have you ever wondered why those people have two seats to themselves? There's a good reason for it.
Take a tip from me. Chew gum. Its dirty, but far more socially acceptable. She'll come crawling back.
Hang on... Belle? That looks familiar..
There's a Belle that writes for this magazine. A talking dog, apparently. I think someone somewhere has been picking too many magic mushrooms, but you know me, soul of tact and discretion, I say nothing.
Now it starts to make sense. I'm being written to by a dog.
A dog is writing me letters.
Perhaps I should stop smoking these leaves. Its one step from here to wandering around bus-stations, shouting obscenities.
Come to think of it, I've already done that...
I don't suppose one more puff will hurt. Talking dogs aren't so bad..
Until next week, my little rays of radiation, may God protect your Souls
What days are for
You said I had to take more pleasure in the journey itself. You said to be happy right here and now and not think about the future too much, or what I want from it. You said to take some time to learn to do it - then, you run off.
And now you are there, and I am often tempted to him a letter and ask - are you doing all these things yourself? Did you at least run off for a good reason? Sometimes, I imagine that. A letter with my handwriting and his name on it - black ink, colourful stamps, all to be thrown on his doorstep by some careless postman (I can't see a letterbox in the photo). But it would be all right because it doesn't rain too much over there.
I don't think I will, though. Send a letter. Lately, I'm all for never posted letters.
I don't think you expected me to do it, but I am sly and I like surprising you. Also, I've got too much time on my hands since you left. At first, I used to spend it reading the books you left behind. By spring, I knew them by heart and I had grown out that. Now I spend my time writing you letters I will never post. Maybe one day they will become a book in their turn.
I liked the books - but what I like the most is the postcard with the poem. I don't think you meant to live that one behind, and that makes it precious.
The postcard is one of a painting of the sky. The poem says that days are to be happy in. It's nice - it's strong and catchy. (Now that you are gone, I can say a poem is catchy without your condescending looks or your charmed smiles.) It is written in your best handwriting: neat and tidy and easy to read but strange enough to be interesting.
It wouldn't be my favourite thing in the world though if it weren't for the almost illegible scribbling on the left-hand side:
Then your name, and a few kisses.
It says 'whoever', but I know you: you must have had someone on your mind. On rainy afternoons when I sit with a cup of tea gazing at the wet garden getting more wet and the roses grow, I like to imagine you writing it.
Sometimes, you're writing it for a boy. Some others, for a girl. Sometimes you're drunk on red wine, some others still in your pyjamas. Preferably, the grey and blue ones. Once, you were sitting on the windowsill smoking. I was upstairs with Jonathan. He was sitting on the carpet talking about his holidays. I was tidying. It almost made him sulk.
Sometimes, the kisses are urgent and passionate; sometimes they're slow and sweet. That time, they tasted inevitably of smoke, and they were tender.
There is one thing that never changes; one thing I am sure of, and that is the time of year. In each and every one of these mental images, it is September. Early September, to be precise: the last really mild days of the year. Often I think it was after those days that you run off. They made you long, I know. It was written all over you, those days. It followed you around the house. Quite a pleasure to watch it was, really.
Even though I should have guessed it would make you leave. And maybe I did. Maybe that is what made me sad.
I said sad. I didn't say grumpy.
And still, you thought I didn't see anything. Is it my fault if I say boys are dumb?
You seemed pretty certain I wouldn't understand. Especially when you called me in the front room, handed me a glass of that wine told me to please keep quiet. The wine tasted of roses - I swear - and there was a Go-Betweens record playing. My record, which, later on the night, you proceeded to pack. And take with you. But never mind the record -
You said you had a dream and the dream lied south where the rain was warm. You kept giving me 'please keep quiet' looks. I stayed quiet, because I liked you; and because I didn't want to hear you say that people can't get happy my way. I stayed quiet as you talked about things like 'Paul', 'small house' and 'seaside'. I stayed quiet, as the Go-Betweens wondered out loud instead of me, 'was there anything I could do?'
You said you wanted to get happy and that you thought happiness waited for you at the other end of a southbound journey. I stayed quiet: I looked at my red shoes, and the boxes full of your things, in one of which my record was about to disappear. If not forever, for what seems like a bloody long time.
You tried not to put the blame on me for your being unhappy. Even though you didn't try very hard. Finally, you talked about enjoying the journey.
I couldn't decide. Did you think I was nasty? Or did you (still) think I was wonderful? The look on your face made me change my mind every five minutes. After that, I was almost relieved that you left.
But before that happened, we got a bit drunk on the rose wine. I went up to my bedroom pretty late. When you woke me up to kiss me goodbye, it was bright and still very early.
You still seemed to believe there was a big part of this I didn't understand. I help you, kissed you, and went back to bed. I woke up hours later knowing you were wrong. You were the one who didn't understand.
You felt unhappy in a cold, rainy, northern town. Fine. Even though the rain fell softly, the grass was green, there were roses in the garden in the summer and seagulls over the main square all year round. Fine. You had, suddenly, over the summer, grown out of sharing the four rooms of this old house with me.
You pined; a dream came along; it was strong and clear, and in it you were happy. And then a chance came along and you ran for it. What is there not to understand?
I've always thought of you as being dreamy, spontaneous, brave and rather thoughtless. If I hadn't, would I have moved in with you? Would I be sitting here, in your late grandmother's house, writing you endless letters?
I, on the other hand - you thought I was grumpy, when I was just sad. You called me nasty, when I was just anxious. And you asked me be quiet because I wouldn't understand, when that was what I would have done anyway.
For what was there to say?
I don't think you expected me to do it, but I am sly and I like surprising you. Also, I've got too much time in my hands since you left. And somehow, I learnt to take this time to look around me and appreciate what I see. The lesson lied in the way you pilled your stuff in the boxes and the way the Go-Betweens sang the only thing left to say, so I didn't have to talk.
Your last present to me was your making your departure so poetic - and I don't even think you meant to. It's just what happens when you are you. I can picture you clearly standing in the middle of the front room, packing and singing along, half-drunk, half-gone already, beaming in the thought that happiness lay only a few days and several hundred miles away. I concentrated on the beauty of it all instead of the harshness of your words and the fact that you would be gone the next day. I went to bed with that image in my head. When you woke me up a few hours later, you looked tired and excited.
When I woke up again, I did so in a devoid-of-you-from-then-on world. It was midday and it was raining, the rain fell softly and the clouds were bright. I wasn't happy, but I appreciated it: it looked pretty, even uplifting, and it would make the roses grow.
Now that the days are long and bright once again and even the weather is nice, I don't think of you that often anymore. I do, however, still carry the photo you send me with me all the time. The one of 'Paul', the 'small house', and the 'seaside'. I carry the envelope with his address on as well. And sometimes, when I sit on a bench on the main square with Jonathan at lunchtime and none of us is talking for a while, I think of sending you a postcard of the town hall. Asking you if the seagulls fly so beautifully down there, too.
A Guide To Snow
The first time I ever opened my eyes it was a cold day in January. There was snow on the ground and I thought the world was always this way, bright, and dazzling and white. I soon learnt, however, that snow is a magical substance which glitters and floats down from the sky and only appears when it wants to appear. When it does appear, it will bring you riches beyond your wildest dreams. It will bring you happiness, hope and an excuse to jump around like a one month old puppy.
A few weeks after I first opened my eyes, the snow was just about to disappear and each one of my 7 seven brothers and sisters had moved away to new homes leaving me alone. I felt lonely in my kennel without them and prayed for a miracle. And although the snow was about to disappear it was still a little bit magical and I think it listened to my wish.
I shivered with excitement as I heard the sound of the garden gate
opening.The first thing I saw was the smile on my girl's face as she opened
the kennel door. At first I was slightly scared and tried to hide in the
corner of the kennel. My girl knelt down and whispered, "It will be alright
On Sunday evening, two whole years since the snow first cast its magic spell, the girl was stood at the back door looking out of the window. This is unusual behavior for my girl. I am fascinated by next doors cat, or the birds that hop along the fence, or the way that the leafs on the trees rustle, and I spend hours stood watching them. The girl isn't at all fascinated and hardly ever stands and looks out of that window.
I was curious as to what she was up to so I went and stood next to her. And guess what? The snow had returned. We stood by that window watching the snow falling for quite sometime. The girl smiled and I wagged my tail. I couldn't wait to take her out for a walk the next day.
The girl was a bit unsteady on her feet the next day. I put that down to the excitement because there was snow everywhere! We eventually arrived at the hill near our house and I wouldn't have believed you if you had told me but there was even more snow there than anywhere else. I stared at it for a moment before I realised I was going to have to do a million things at once if I was to make the most of the snow. I jumped, dragged my nose along the ground, ate up big chunks of snow, and ran around and round in circles.
The girl seemed to be a bit cold which was strange, because I didn't notice the cold at all. In fact after all of that running I was a bit hot and needed a rest. I lay down in the snow.The magical properties of the snow cooled me down instantly and I was refreshed to jump, run and eat snow all over again.
Some more of my friends arrived with their people and we ran in circles together. We only stopped to look at the strange behaviour of the small people who were sliding the hill on bits of plastic. People do some strange things sometimes.
Our people got a bit twisted up as their leads knotted together, but no one seemed to mind all of that much. Its hard to mind about knotted leads when you are having so much fun.
I wasn't quite sure why the girl didn't run and jump and eat snow. But when we got home and while she helped me get the snowballs that had mysteriously stuck to my legs she seemed very happy.
I suppose snow just works its magic in different ways.
The Tills Have Eyes
Some years back now, my friend applied for a job as a junior cashier in a high street bank. The advert in the local newspaper stipulated that the potential employee be qualified to "GCSE grade C or above". For our international readers, GCSE's are the universal type of exams that every 16 year old in England takes and can be said to be the Pamela Anderson's of the examination world, in that they are bland and reasonable easy. So anyway, my friend had the requisite qualifications to apply for the post. In addition to the GCSE's, he also had 'A' levels in Economics, Mathematics, and Business studies. Once again, with reference to our vast pool of international readers, the 'A' in 'A' levels stands for 'Advanced' and can be said to resemble the Meg Ryan of the examination world in that you require a little more intelligence than you would with Pamela Anderson, but get beyond the ostentatious air of intellect and you will find the same degree of mediocrity, albeit a slightly more sophisticated and, dare I say it, more prestigious form of mediocrity. I digress dear reader- back to the point...
My friend, being more than well qualified for the post of junior cashier in a high street bank, was selected for an interview. There were, he told me, three other interviewees- One he didn't recognise, and two from the year below us in school. The interview went well, "better than expected" he said, and they were suitably impressed with both the attainment, and content therein, of his 'A' levels. He was more than quietly confident of getting the job, and was told by the person who interviewed him that he would no doubt see him very soon. Now, my friend isn't what one could call overly-confident about anything. He lacks belief in himself. He could score six goals in a football match and chastise himself for not scoring seven. He's that type of person. So for him to say that he felt he had virtually got the job is a miracle akin to George Bush knowing that France is in Europe and China is not. It's that type of admission, readers. Three days go by, and he receives a letter from said high street bank: "Dear Mr Man*, Thank you blah blah blah, we regret to inform you that, on this occasion, your application was unsuccessful. Yours etc etcetc."
Stunned, gobsmacked, flabbergasted. Take your pick and my friend was all of these adjectives multiplied by a hundred. At least. What happens when you go for a job, for which you are more than qualified and more qualified than any of the other applicants, you impress the person who interviews you to the point of them virtually telling you the job is yours, and then you still don't get it? CAPRiM are what happens, that's what. This is what CAPRiM do:
"Living Marxism, Alternative Green, Ethical Consumer, Earth First!, Multinational Monitor, Militant, Morning Star, Trade Union News, New Internationalist, Engineering Gazette, Labour Research Department Fact Service. The Mastheads above represent a cross-section of organisations which seek to weaken a company's ability to manage its affairs profitably. While some are idealistic, many are inherently opposed to free enterprise. They all threaten a company's independence. Companies need to know what these organisations are saying and planning. CAPRiM provides this information. And assesses the strength of the threat. And advises on appropriate action. That is one of the ways in which we help you to reduce your risks and protect your profits. CAPRiM helps its clients by checking the bona fides of anyone a company is concerned about, whether external or members of staff. A simple CV check is often sufficient - and economical."
So had my friend been blacklisted? In 1990, my friend, along with me, went on a march denouncing the forthcoming Gulf War. We signed a petition against the war because we believed in weird things like it wasn't right to kill thousands of innocent children in the pursuit of profit, you know, stuff like that. Call us madmen if you like...Four years later, my friend, despite receiving all signals to the contrary, misses out on a job. Nobody at Barclays (oops!) would comment on the allegations of blacklisting, nor would they give a reasonable answer as to why my friend didn't get the job.....
Next week, I'll be looking more closely at CAPRiM, blacklisting, and the sinister means by which we are controlled. Dare you miss it? I thought not!
*Mr Man is, obviously, not my friends real name...
It had been a long day. He'd been walking for a while, looking for a bride..
.. never an easy business, looking for a wife. Especially not in Biblical Israel. Wives were closely inspected for suitability, and he had a highly discriminating father.
Discriminating....Some would say out-and-out bigoted:
'I'm not having you marry no bloody Caananite. Even if it IS your third wife. I don't want no spook in my family.'*
A resentful brain being the type most prone to echoes, Jacob found the words reverberating around his skull as he left his father's house, and headed...away. Anywhere.
He walked for many many miles - these were heroic times, and walking for many miles was the Thing To Do. He had to put Isaac, his father, from his mind. He had to find another wife. No man could be expected to manage with just two. And everyone he saw looked suspiciously like they were of Caanan Origin.
A long day. And he was hungry. He settled down to rest for the night in a vineyard, a pile of stones for his pillow.
That's it... so the story goes, anyway. What the story doesn't tell you is what Jacob did before he went to sleep.
No, not THAT, silly.... He was too holy for such boyish night-time tricks.
Perhaps, in that vineyard there grew an innocuous little green plant, not entirely dissimilar from a crocus, distinguishable only by the heavy white bud that hung, unopened, above the leaves. Unopened for now. Had our hero stayed awake he might have seen the little plant as the bud opened, and displayed its full glory - a silent beauty contest with the watching moon.
Perhaps Jacob nibbled on the stamen of the flower before he found repose.
Why would this matter? That night, Jacob had one of those...moments.
Later on, people would say he was dreaming. He probably told them it was a vision. Visions were all the fashion at that point.
But, anyway, he dreamed. Or he visualised. And he saw a ladder. Not just any old ladder. A marvellous great big one with its foot on the Earth, and its apex... somewhere indescribably beautiful. He watched the angels clambering up and down the rungs for a bit, as one would, and then he heard God speak to him. The Big Guy was in a good mood that day. He promised Jacob that he'd give him everything he wanted from life. More or less. If he did as his Dad said and stayed away from Caananites.
He told a few people about this, as you do. And he got quite famous on the back of it. Racist rhetoric being pretty acceptable back then, nobody questioned his judgement.
Not a bad night, all in all. Especially given the unpromising genesis of events.
Oh, that's quite important.
Well, these days it is known as Jacob's Ladder.
You don't find it in vineyards so much any more. And you're unlikely to find it anywhere else. A selective little bugger, this one. Grows as a result of the decaying grape-skins. Some chemical they leave behind. It died off pretty heavily in the late 1950s and early 60s, when the introduction of new pesticides changed the composition of the grapes, seeping into the wine and the soil, destroying vital elements of the ecosystem, as such things do.
So, by the end of the 1960s, it had pretty much disappeared from the Western world.
Some say this wasn't entirely a coincidence.
You see, Jacob's Ladder could have been something of a problem around this time. A few tests on the American Army had proved that. This was in the early days of such tests, before they moved into the big time with the ergot-fungus otherwise known as LSD.
Jacob's ladder was slipped into drinking water, in much the same way. Those taking it displayed symptoms of euphoria. Many of them talked of interconnectivity, and a newfound awareness of their bond with the rest of humanity.
Some refused to fight.
And then??? It vanished.
The new pesticide, marketed heavily in wine-producing countries, had the curious side effect of removing the little white bulbs from the vineyards. Nobody missed them much. There weren't too many who had been there, close to midnight, when the bulb performed its single-layer striptease, for the benefit of unknown nocturnal friends.
Some say the plant was named after Jacob. The experiences it engenders are so potent, and positive, that they compare with our hero's sky-gazing experiences.
Some, less kind, commentators say that Jacob never existed, and the whole thing was a metaphor. A way of spreading knowledge about the little white flowers, and telling a pretty story into the bargain. It wouldn't have been right to let everyone know about it. Not directly. Not everyone would appreciate what they were getting.
In the heat of the night, the Lord reached down to Jacob, and promised him the Earth.
Jacob had already experienced the Heavens, and decided everything seemed rather nice again.
Unaware that he was only a metaphor, he went out to find the World.
And he married a nice girl. One his Dad approved of.
It grows mostly in Southern France. Contrary to legend, it always did. There are one or two organic vineyards left and some say that the little white plants are reappearing, over time, as more and more farmers turn away from harmful chemicals.
Recently, an outbreak of 'collective euphoria' was reported in the streets of Moncul, a small village, far from anywhere, not known for its remarkable inhabitants. Not before that day, anyway.
Visit Moncul today, so the story goes, and it is full of people smiling quietly to themselves. You can ask them why. Perhaps they'll tell you they've found something to smile about....
So, should you find yourself wandering through the valleys around Bordeaux one night, and you can't find a place to sleep, or a wife, you could do worse than asking a friendly farmer if you can have a kip in his vineyard.
And don't be surprised if you wake up, around midnight, to find him picking flowers.
*Okay, that line isn't from The Bible, I pinched it from a Hot Chocolate song. Look, people are always quoting The Bible, it gets bloody boring. And Errol Brown might have been a Biblical prophet, had he been born 2000 years earlier, and had a penchant for long white robes. Maybe. You never know.